7 Simple Ways to Travel Europe for Less

My fiane and I have been to Europe late last year for our yearly “backpacking trip”, as we call it. Every year, we hope to travel to anywhere outside the Philippines for at least two weeks. To do this, we both agree to abstain from international travels to prepare our pockets for bigger adventures. But having that basic itch to travel, we still sneaked through a few weekends to see the beautiful provinces of the Philippines! Anyhow, this trip was our first outside of Asia. A travel that’s totally different in terms of sights to see (no more hundreds of temples this time), different culture and race, different climate. And most of all, different standard of living. Born and raised in a third-world country, a vacation to Europe was nothing but a distant dream to me. It goes without saying that I need to really save up before I can go to that side of the world.

I am not a frequent traveler to Europe. For sure, there are many Filipino travellers who have been there for so many times already that bragging about our Eurotrip itinerary would be funny. I am writing to my fellow travellers who have the same desire to see Europe but needed a more convincing proof that it can be done cheaply (but not dirt cheap, sorry!). The tips that I am going to share to you are based from some research and of course, from our 3-week adventure in Europe. These are just my recommendations, not words of the wise (hehe). Here you go:

Pack light and fly with a budget airline to connect distant cities in your itinerary

It’s amazing to know that there are airline companies who offer cheap airfares within Europe even if it’s booked just 1 to 2 months before your trip. I’m kinda used to Cebu Pacific offering their budget fares at least 6 months to one year before your intended travel. So this was a surprise to me! We’ve flown with Wizz Air from Budapest to Milan for only Php 1,500, inclusive of hold luggage; Rome to Barcelona via Ryan Air; Amsterdam to Prague via Easy Jet. Luckily, all flights departed on-time. If you choose to travel by plane, however, be mindful of these carriers’ policy on excess luggage because the charges may shock you! Ryan Air, for example, will charge you €10 (Php 520) for an excess baggage fee - per kilo; €13 (Php 820) per kilo for Easy Jet. So, if you can’t pack light, bring at least a portable weighing scale to check your luggage weight from time to time. Sounds ridiculous, but it’ll save you from extra charges.

If you have time, travel by bus instead of train

We have not tried Europe’s cross-country trains yet. I heard that they are amazing but a bit expensive. We opted to take the bus and plane because they best fit our budget and itinerary. To cut the cost, we planned our itinerary carefully and listed down at least 2 modes of transportation, along with their cost and travel time. Just to give you a sample comparison on how you can cut the cost by taking the bus:

Florence to Rome
  • Option A by bus: Megabus - Php 75 (€1,20); 4 hours
  • Option B by train: Tren Italia - Php 1,300 (€25); 1.5 hours
Paris to Amsterdam
  • Option A by bus: Oui Bus - Php 1,000 (€19); 8 hours (overnight)
  • Option B by train: Thalys Train - Php 2,800 (€53); 3 hours
Prague to Budapest
  • Option A by bus: Student Agency Bus - Php 1,100 (€21); 7 hours (overnight)
  • Option B by train: Euronights Train - Php 3,100 (€58); 8 hours
Book your airline, train and bus tickets in advance.

For a 21-day trip, we booked every transportation ticket online in advance. I love how the train lines, even bus companies have their own online ticketing system! What is also surprising is that none of them got cancelled or delayed. Discounts are also very common if tickets are booked in advance. For instance, I was able to book a first-class ticket via the Italo website (one of the biggest train companies in Italy) for the price of a second-class ticket. The train was so nice, it has its own bar and restaurant. But for common scenarios, you don't need to book a first-class ticket. The economy couch are still comfortable. Besides, it's still the same train. Regardless of cabin, you'll get to your destination at the same time.

Museum pass can save money

Take the 2-day Paris Museum pass as an example. While it’s optional to see the biggest museums, we feel that a visit to Paris is not complete without seeing the Louvre Museum, Musee d’Orsay, Notre Dame towers and Versailles. If you buy a single ticket for each of these four museums, it will cost you €51. Whereas, the Paris Museum pass only costs €42! Plus, you get an unlimited, skip the line access to these museums. We were also able to see some equally beautiful sites like the Sainte-Chapelle, Musee l'Orangerie, the top of Arc de Triomphe and Centre Pompidou. Most museum passes have a complimentary “skip the line” access, so you can visit as many museums as you like.

Use the ATM instead of money changers

Dealing with foreign currency foreign currency exchange can be a head-scratcher. Instead of changing your Peso notes to Euro in Manila (or worst, Peso to USD to Euro if Sanry’s doesn’t have Euros at hand. It happens.), call your local bank to activate your ATM’s international withdrawal. I am not sure of the exact charges. But based from experience, it’s cheaper to use the ATM than money changers. Also, the exchange rate was very good when we used our Visa credit card to pay for the hotel and restaurant bills. Luckily, there were no hidden charges! Check with your bank just to be sure. To minimize ATM fees, just remember the rule- make fewer but larger withdrawals.

Travel with a partner

I’ve not yet tried solo travel. And I don’t have any plans to try it any time soon, for two reasons: first, I am afraid to die alone; second, I want to share everything with someone, including the expenses. Hah! Hotels in Europe are no way cheaper than Southeast Asia. You cannot just walk-in a hotel and expect to pay Php 200 for a night stay. I’m also not comfortable sharing a room with someone I don’t know. So yea, screw this girl who wants to do budget travel but not willing to sleep in hostel dorms. I’m not against those who prefer the hostels okay! Going back, if you travel with a partner, it will definitely cut the cost on a private hotel room, even on food, beers, luggage fees, taxis, and so on. Sharing is a wonderful thing!

Make use of public transportation over taxi

In Amsterdam, I had the most expensive taxi ride of my life. We paid €60 for a Mercedes Benz service from Vondelpark to Schiphol Airport. It was a nice 40-minute experience nevertheless (still trying to appease myself here). The tram was not 24/7 and there’s no way to catch our early morning flight to Prague. So we took a cab. Anyway, by all means, take the public transportation if you want to cut the cost of travel. The transportation system in Europe is top-notch. I can’t imagine how the French government fit in 300 stations in a small city like Paris; and how trains can bring you to almost anywhere in Europe. Most of all, how on-time and organize their transportation systems are. Also, if you prefer to take the train than see the tourist spots by foot, then a train pass may be a good option. There are also train passes in big cities like Rome, Amsterdam and Paris.

Beautiful train station of Milano Centrale 

So there, I hope you find these tips useful for your future Eurotrip. I’m sure there are many other expert ways to travel for less in EU. Also, if I may add, Europe is really big. Do not expect to see everything in just one trip. Remember that the more you move between cities, the more it gets expensive. Move less to cut the cost on transportation and of course, to appreciate each city you visit even more. You can't see everything all at once. And that's the beauty of traveling to Europe. You will always go back for more!

I’d love to hear your travel-for-less tips for EU! Share them in the comments please :-)

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Suggested Reading:
Visit Paris on a Php50,000 Budget
Schengen Visa Application at the French Embassy, Manila
6 Ways to Survive 6 Days in Paris - on a Budget